Ethics Bowl by Midori Chen

On Saturday, Abigail, Frances, Mykel and I piled into the Schott-Rosenfield minivan and drove down to UC Santa Cruz, where the annual National High School Ethics Bowl was being held.

This is only the second year since its inception, but competition was intense. Schools from across the Bay Area sent one or two teams— Bentley, Kirby, Hillsdale. Competing teams were given fifteen cases to prepare for before hand, each with its own ethical dilemma to consider. The day of the competition, two teams went head-to-head, giving a five-minute presentation, a three-minute response to the rival team’s rebuttal, then ending in a ten-minute section for judges’ questions. We were scored on presentation, depth of argument, and cordialness to our opposing teams.

There was talk of starting an Ethics Bowl team in SOTA since the end of last year. Jerry Pannone, SOTA’s previous Orchestra director, led the charge in November; we had two months to prepare. SOTA managed to put out three teams, so three graduate students at SF State coached us in the cases regarding argument and presentation. The team of CW Seniors (we actually didn’t plan it? It just ended up that way? Maybe?) got Matthew (or Professor Howery, in his classes), aaaand…

We got to semifinals! I’m typing with a stupid grin on my face. We won against three out of four teams and went to semifinals!

So philosophy has this reputation of being all, “So what is the meaning of life?” with bitter old men and wine, and there were concerns going into this that Ethics Bowl would be like that. It’s not that at all, thank the powers that be. We take very real, very contemporary situations (Frankenburger, Indian Child Welfare Act, One Child Policy, Trayvon Martin, just to name a few) and determine the essential ethical conflict, then decide on a stance to take. I’ve found that often times, I would discuss a situation and immediately have a gut feeling about it being right or wrong— the case that comes to mind is “Political Sex Scandals,” in which the question is whether or not it’s moral to reinstate a politician who conducted sexual indiscretions back into office. My gut feeling told me No, that’s just bad. However, Matt then told us to redefine the question, specifically where “sexual indiscretions” mean “a breaking of a sexual contract between the politician and his or her partner(s).” Given that the politician does not misuse public funds or violate another person’s autonomy/cause them harm, the question becomes a little bit harder. Ultimately, it was an argument that Mykel gave in favor of “Yes, we should reinstate the politician, if his/her previous track record proves his/her competence” that solidly changed my mind— that it was the duty of the voters to be rational and get over that gut feeling if the politician produces good results. This is just one case in which my ethical intuition (as it were) became more fleshed-out.

Competition day was intense. I’ve never done anything like debate before, so I was shaking, and I had a stomachache, and I was dizzy, and I could hear my heart pounding in my ears… It started out somewhat dreadful. As the day went on, though, my confidence in and love for my team grew more and more— gosh they’re so cool. Bee-Gail had this stately, austere way about her (as she often does), Frances was precise and eloquent, and Mickel was a boss on articulating snap responses. My favorite moment was when Matt was, I guess, so happy with one of our responses (I think it’s when Frances shot down someone’s attempt to draw a Hitler analogy) that he put on his shades in the middle of the relatively dim competition room. In that moment, I could feel my confidence sky-rocket.

Conclusion of this story: ethics is a ton of fun. Our team wants to begin building next year’s team now, as to better prepare them (as we found out, meeting once a week for eight weeks was not enough time). Also we just want to keep debating ethics. An interesting topic to possibly have in Creative Writing— questions such as the ethics of writing fiction (misrepresentation of reality?), or even a character exploration exercise in developing how they respond to the ethical dilemmas proposed in our cases. I’m already writing one for a character in my thesis. Matt is super cool— our team talked for hours during celebratory dinner on Tuesday night, and we’d love to share his brain and person with the rest of CW. (He’s even a cat person. Wow.)

[DR] Monday, Oct. 28th

by Giorgia (’14)

On Monday we returned to the classroom from our annual camping camping trip at Kirby Cove sleepy and smoke-smelling with fresh faces and new stories. Among which Heather learned to play snaps, Giorgia (’14) tried to teach samba, Justus (’15) was a sexy bookcase, the freshmen underwent forceful (and ultimately unsuccessful) segregation, the Schott-Rosenfield (’14, ’17) sibling rivalry went crashing into the sea, and Colin (’16) finally took down Jules (’14), our own departmental kraken, during our traditional beach romp. Mostly, it was just, as the young ones say “cold as balls.”

Obviously, we had a lot to discuss on Monday. We did this eating delicious peanut butter chocolate cookies Noa (’16) made for her writing buddy, Lizzie (’14) (happy 17th birthday lizz!), and leftover croissants, potato chips, and izzes from the trip. We talked about our favorite moments, what went well and what didn’t.

After our Kirby Cove debrief, the freshmen went off to the dark cavern they call “Freshmen Seminar” with Maia, and the rest of CW settled down with Sarah Fontaine (<3) for umläut. It’s early on in the year, so we are currently lying out preliminary framework, along with rebooting umläut‘s online presence and overall mission statement.

That evening, five seniors– Midori Chen, Mykel Mogg, Giorgia Peckman, Frances Saux, and Abigail Schott-Rosenfield —read at the Book Club of California (of which Abigail is a member). We were asked to the Book Club by Abigail’s grandmother, Kathy, earlier this year. Each of us read through a section of the Club’s collection (the club specializes in fine print press), mostly Tangram books, and each selected one or two works from which to write from. Our response poems focused on California history, and the relation of landscape and the individual. It was quite exciting to read our work outside of the school community, especially in such a rich and resonant environment full of so many monumental works.

We also sold a full set of umläut to the Book Club!

Internship Self-Assessment

Picture 95by Mykel Mogg (’14)

Volunteering with the preschool readiness program at Excelsior Family Connections brings up personal challenges for me, specifically around power and teaching. My internship at Hoover last year also made me engage with this issue, but over almost two years, I have not been able to find peace with the level of coercion I am expected to use while teaching children. How can I, as an anarchist and a person who strives to take children seriously, be comfortable picking up a four-year-old and plopping her in a corner for not following rules? I don’t know whether coercion is necessary to all safe learning environments, but it is certainly a requirement for teaching in our current school system. I always try to be rational, patient, and respectful in the way I enforce rules with kids, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m exerting power over them– power that comes from the fact that I happen to be older. I never bring these issues up in the classroom, but I think about them a lot. Obviously, there’s no single answer to question, “how do I fit into a system that isn’t in line with my values?” It’s an internal dialogue that everyone has to go through at one time or another.

Besides thinking about power dynamics, my experience at EFC has been nothing but fun. I love showing up every Monday to see how the kids will interact with whatever toys and “science stations” we’ve put out that day, because they always subvert expectations. I’ve learned a lot about the benefits of a messy classroom. Je Ton Carey, one of the teachers I work with, is a big proponent of sensory play. She brings in big tubs of sand, leaves, shaving cream, water, and homemade play-do to the classroom for the kids to interact with. Their senses of touch and smell come alive as they get their clothes wet, rip up flowers, and dump sand all over the floor. This reminds me of the true nature of education: helping people discover what’s amazing about the world.

This Isn’t A Dog And Pony Show!

by Mykel (’14)

There’s a feeling I like to call “end of the year nihilism,” and it’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. For someone as lazy and evasive as yours truly, heaps of final projects and tests often result in what the experts like to call a “fuck-it-all coma.”

I’m trying to avoid that scary place in my brain this year. And you know what’s really helping out with that right now? Our awesome artist in residence, Sarah Fontaine.

Oh yes, this is one of those posts.

Her combination of flexibility and structure, experimentation and “engagement with discipline” reminds me how meaningful school can be. I am personally having a great time with the genre-bending texts she has us reading, but our unit gives me more than texts to think about. It reminds me what a huge privilege it is to spend all my days learning. In other words, even if some of my experience with school is annoying and uncomfortable, it’s still not “a dog and pony show.” (Sarah Fontaine’s words.) It still has things to offer me.

Just because Creative Writing is in the middle of a really cool unit doesn’t mean that school is fun all of a sudden. But doing things like listening to an entire album without distractions, holding silent conversations, and reading confusing literature make me more willing to sit through things that may be boring or uncomfortable. And more than that, the kinds of homework we are being assigned remind me to be more open to what my “boring” experiences have to offer me.

Sciiiiiiieeeeence

by Mykel (’14)

I’ve always been an obsessive person. I move through intense phases where I read everything I can on a particular subject. I cycle through periods of enthusiasm: eras of history, TV shows, foods, philosophies, and musicians have all had their turn in the spotlight…

I always have the urge to share my excitement with other people, which I’m sure gets seriously annoying, because it usually ends up with me rolling around on the CW carpet and saying “Midoooriiii! It’s sooo cooooolll.”

Anyways, my most recent obsession is fermentation! (It’s so cool!) I love seeing bacteria at work in such a concrete way. Letting certain kinds of bacteria do their thing on dairy, fruits, and vegetables actually increases their digestability and nutritional value. Plus the stuff is fun to make and super tasty. I like how it makes me think about all the beneficial microbes humans live with in symbiotic relationships. And how human bodies are superorganisms.

So far, I’ve made my own yogurt/yogurt cheese. With the whey (excess fluid you get when you strain yogurt or cheese), I’m going to make my own fermented apple chutney! Then maybe I’ll move on to beets and carrots. Mmmm. Microbes.

by Mykel (’14)

Sometimes, artists in residence spout out the most beautiful, compelling, or funny ideas that I just have to write them down in my notebook. Creative Writing II’s poetry unit consisted of units by two artists in residence: Justin Desmangles, who focused on blues and jazz, and Truong Tran, who taught poetry through visual media. Here are some of their ideas that changed the way I think about poetry.

JUSTIN

“The message ‘you’re not okay,’ seen in advertisements, affects and infects the way we relate to one another. Only through poetry can we examine our language and find what is truly us and what is the result of advertisement.”

“The idea of the boundary of what’s decent and indecent has to constantly be broken to ensure your freedom.”

“Dissonance and harmony are a lot about remembering and forgetting.”

“History has a way of calcifying itself. It’s your job as poets, not just to reconstruct, but to rescue it.”

“Your ability to think is defined by your ability to feel.”

TRUONG

“It’s okay to explore different subjects through the same objects or images over and over again.”

“At some point in your writing, you have to shut out the idea of the audience.”

[On poetry]: “Don’t be precious. Make a big fucking mess.”

BONUS ROUND: TONY BRAVO

[In response to a comment on his luscious eyelashes]: “Thank you. I had them harvested from Shetland ponies.”

What a Few People Want to Say to the World

by Abigail (’14)

On December 16, Mykel, Midori and I went to a reading from Carville Annex. It was held in the Arboretum, in the redwood grove, which is difficult to find. I showed up early at the entrance and met some of the readers. None of them were sure about how to get to the redwoods. “We were hoping Sarah knew.”

Sarah Fontaine showed up. “Hey, where are we going?” we asked her. “Well…I don’t really know,” she said. So we started wandering. I noticed a sign that said, “Redwood Grove,” with an arrow, but nobody else seemed to. I was walking behind them, and they were too far away for me to mention it… Since they had they the map, I figured they knew what they were doing. Not really, but whatever. Someone said, “Even if nobody figures out where the reading is, they’ll have a great time walking around with the plants!”

“Yeah!”

“This place is rad, right? I love the weather!”

“Yeah!”

The entire reading had, in some ways, the tone of this conversation. Everybody was happy to be there, and everybody liked and trusted everybody else. The readers were all young—two were high school students, the rest were maybe twenty to twenty-eight. Many of the pieces were about not knowing how to be a good adult, or not knowing what the author’s place in the world was, but the readers were figuring it out… they were getting there. They were enjoying themselves along the way.

the halcyon bird, or Kingfisher

One of the pieces, a “sermon” for the holidays—“’Tis the goddamn season,” it began—explained (convincingly and hilariously) the importance of paying attention to one thing at a time. Apparently, “the ancients” believed that, for a few days during the holiday season, birds called Halcyons floated in nests on the sea, keeping it calm so people could celebrate. The author said that, this year, she’d celebrate the season by not multitasking— she’d try to live some halcyon days.

Her fellow readers seemed to be living halcyon days, too. They were all calm and appreciative and earnest and fully present. Which you don’t get often at your average reading.

It was nice to hear my friend Annakai read (I hadn’t in a long time) and it was also nice to sit with Midori and Mykel, listening, in such a pretty spot. Birds kept popping out of the surrounding bushes, flying past the readers’ faces, then disappearing again. There were more great things about it, but it would make a very long blog post to talk about them all. Midori said it was the best reading she had ever gone to, and Mykel and I agree, so keep an eye out for more.

The title of the reading was “What a Few People Want to Say to the World.” I wish I could quote the first piece read, which was Sarah’s, but the gist of it seemed to be that self-promotion is only gross when it’s egotistical—when it’s just because you want to tell people about yourself, it’s helpful, and bigger than yourself, and necessary. The readers were all happy to be included in the “few people,” and they were confident that they were talking to a larger audience than just the people in the redwood clearing.

CW Love

by Mykel (’14)

Love is “I don’t think the second person really serves the character development in this piece and also stop it with the italicized song lyrics.”

Love is “HEATHER YOU DID NOT GIVE US ENOUGH WARNING ABOUT THIS HUGE ASSIGNMENT I HAVE COLLEGES TO APPLY TO.”

Love is “buy our CDs, I promise we’re good!”

Love is coffee and pillows and dance parties and paninis and three alternate realities coexisting in one conversation.

Chicano Poetry: the “Insurrection of Subjugated Knowledges”

by Mykel (’14)

Today the whole department went to see Lorna Dee Cervantes, San Francisco Poet Laureate Alejandro Murguía, and California State Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera read poetry and discuss the current state of Chicano literature. I expected to hear some bilingual poetry and a short discussion afterwards, but the panel q&a turned out to be the meat of the program. I was astonished by the way the three poets wove big-picture politics in with their personal and artistic lives. They talked about issues too diverse and far-reaching for me to itemize here, but touched on subjects from war budgets sleep apnea to independent publishing. Lorna Dee Cervantes passionately went in depth about the attack on ethnic studies in Arizona schools, blowing my mind with connections between censorship of Chicana/o literature, dropout rates, and hate crimes. (To learn more about this issue, go to http://librotraficante.com/.) This then led to discussion about the implications of censorship, and the ways that current trends in the U.S. mirror the rise of Nazism in Europe in the 30s.

When asked what people could do to counteract this, Herrera said to “focus on the creative.” The others agreed and expanded on the sentiment. The fact that these experienced, educated activists (one of whom studied the rise of Nazism in graduate school) truly believe that writing poetry can fight fascism: that’s definitely the thing that I’ll carry with me from this afternoon. That amount of responsibility placed on me as a writer is simultaneously horrifying and inspiring. I can’t wait for more of those radical political/artistic “a-ha!” connections, which are sure to happen when Juan Felipe Herrera teaches his unit in the Creative Writing classroom.

(Midori) The day before, I assisted with a Saturday Chinese school my mom teaches at and my sister attends. I met the principal, a friendly man that told me the only thing I had to know about his school was the mission statement– to get children interested in the Chinese language. He didn’t say anything about the SAT or the AP, the babysitting business they were practically doing, the rise of China as a world power or anything like that, just told me of his sincere wish for children to like Chinese. Invigorated by our meeting, I taught a class, and was faced with the annoying reality of twenty five arrogant middle schoolers and freshmen. Their literacy level was also much lower than I had hoped for, and upon asking one of them how long they’ve been at this school, she answered proudly “Ten years!” This was from a girl that didn’t even understand when I asked for her name in Chinese. I was infinitely saddened by this response, and today, I realized why. As someone who has immediate access to both Chinese and English cultures, I have the best of both worlds, and I see the value in both. Here is a student that is more concerned with appearing “cool” and not caring about her grades than with culture. Her culture. It saddened me that she had ignored this wonderful opportunity for ten frickin’ years, that she had forsaken an entire world of stories and culture, and had done it all with pride. As all three featuring poets said today, this is the road a lot of youths are facing– illiteracy, pride, ignorance, and fear. It scared me, but in a way that reaffirmed my determination to be a writer, to not be afraid of people, to not be afraid of stories.